Tippler Does Belgium......De Koninck

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A touch of glass

Now working in Belgium for an English-language magazine, Tippler is

ideally placed to carry on his love of beer. Here he explores the

amber-coloured world of Antwerp's De Koninck brewery and comes

away suitably impressed.....

There's only one De Koninck....

There's only one De Koninck. And there's only one brewery in Antwerp,

as I discovered during a recent visit to this atmospheric city.

This family-run business was founded in 1833 and is steeped in history.

Indeed, if you look closely at the De Koninck logo, you'll spot a hand.

This hand has a starring role in the company's story as its twin is found

on an old stone post that marked the boundary between Antwerp and

Bechem, just 100 metres from the brewery. Travellers would see the

hand, stop and pay a toll to cross into Antwerp. After years spent

gathering dust in the catacombs of the city's Vleeshuis, the original

stone post has come home and now stands in the brewery courtyard.

....people ask for a "bolleke" ....

Not only that but ask any beer drinker in Flanders or Holland what a

"bolleke" is and he will immediately associate it with De Koninck. The

bolleke is the ball-shaped, high-stemmed glass that was typically used

in Antwerp to serve any highly-fermented beer but, in Flanders

especially, people ask for a "bolleke" and specifically mean a glass of

the 5% rich amber-coloured De Koninck. The two are synonymous.

....retain a good head while setting free its heady aroma.

The glass, alongside its smaller, shorter-stemmed brother, the Pinske

(little prince) has become a much-prized collector's item among beer

buffs the world over. It, and the beer, is instantly recognisable and in

this way this small but perfectly-formed brewery, which employs just

70 people in total, has contributed to the history of its host city. Not

only that, but the Belgians, as you've doubtless noticed, like their

beer frothy.....and the bolleke's shape helps De Koninck retain a good

head while setting free its heady aroma.

....under the name of "The Hand"

The home of the bolleke began life on a very small scale in the

Plaisante Hof coach house, then located opposite a gallows field. One

Joseph Henricuss De Koninck bought the coach house in 1827 but died

soon afterwards. His wife later married Johannes Vervliet, who started

a brewery under the name of "The Hand".

By 1912 it was a limited company called "Charles De Koninck" and, in

1919, a family of brewers from Willebroek, the Van den Bogaerts,

formed a company with the then De Koninck director. To this day

members of the Van den Bogaert family run De Koninck from its

brewery in Mechelsesteenweg. Up until 1995 the bolleke and its

younger, but stronger, brother, Cuvee De Koninck (8%) were created in

the old brewhouse. This stands on the site of the original brewery and

is now a museum.

.....in these high-tech environs......

A new "21st century brewhouse", that looks like the set of a sci-fi

movie and is housed in the next building, now produces the two

beers. Also brewed in these high-tech environs is De Koninck1s third

great beer, the 6% Antoon, which was launched last year in honour of

Anthony Van Dyck, the supreme portrait artist at the court of the

Stuart king, Charles I. Van Dyck had been born in Antwerp 400 years

before. Cuvee De Koninck, on the other hand, was first launched as

Cuvee Antwerpen '93 to tie-in with the nomination of the city as

Cultural Capital of Europe in that year. It's also amber coloured.....but

is a little sweeter than the bolleke, as well as being much more


It's all a matter of taste.

Both Antoon and Cuvee De Koninck have their own loyal following and

each brew varies slightly. So, theoretically, there's no reason why beer

experts, like those of wine, can't compare bottles from different years

and, for example, ask for a Cuvee circa 97 instead of a '99. It's all a

matter of taste.

And what a taste that is! The brewhouse may be ultra-modern but the

beers smack of years of Belgian tradition. Water and malt combine in

the mash tub and the starch, released by the crushing of the malt

grains, turns to fermentable sugars. This "liquid sugar" is separated

from the solids in a filtration tank and is called "wort". The wort is

next boiled to stabilise and sterilise it. At this point ground hops are

added to create the bolleke's characteristic aroma and pleasant

bitterness. These are 90% Czechoslovakian Saaz variety hops, with the

balance coming from Belgium.

....re-activated by the brewing process.

The beer's amber colour is down to the malt barley. Years ago the

brewery had its own malt house in which the barley was sprayed with

water in order to kick-start the germination process. This forms

enzymes which are de-activated during kiln-drying then re-activated

by the brewing process.

The kiln temperature determines whether the malt will be light or

dark and De Koninck uses malt kiln-dried at high temperatures, hence

its lovely, rich colour.

These days, the malt is brought in and the Old Malt House is a cosy,

atmospheric and smoky bar used by the brewery's many visiting


But back to that all-important brewing process: once sieved, the wort

is cooled and the yeast added. De Koninck's particular strain of

yeast.....from the Saccheromyces Cerevisiae family.....is stored and

cultivated in a lab in Denmark and its presence converts the sugars to

alcohol. De Koninck is a high fermentation beer and this means that,

during the process, the yeast floats and can be recovered.

After fermentation the beer is "lagered", or chilled, and after a final

filtration is ready for barrelling or bottling. The spilt is around 70/30

respectively and bottling is done in-house.

....there's no getting away from the sign of "The Hand".

Some 15 brews take place each working week, every brew being 200

hectolitres in size. The annual total is around 114,000 HL.

Approximately 35% of this total draught and bottled-beer leaves

Belgium. While that may sound a lot, in truth most of that amount

goes just down the road to the discerning Dutch. Surprisingly, the

beer is not all that common in Brussels.....but in Antwerp there's no

getting away from the sign of "The Hand".

The two newer De Koninck beers look certain to stay around, but

there's no doubt that the original bolleke, whether on draught or in a

bottle, is far and away the most widely-drunk of the brewery's three

superb concoctions.

....certainly the best welcome possible....

All the beers are brewed using only natural ingredients and, at 5%, the

bolleke is eminently quaffable....and a glass (or three) of the

remarkable liquid was certainly the best welcome possible for this

writer's first visit to lively, historic and very, very Flemish, Antwerp.



Visit another Belgium brewery with Tippler click here for Chimay





De Koninck